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Destructors and Deconstructors

March 22, 2017

“The Destructors” is the title of a powerful story by Grahame Greene (pdf): In an old neighborhood of London that was partially destroyed by bombs, V1s, and V2s, some of the stone houses yet stand intact and habitable, some have been reduced to rubble, and one is still standing but has been weakened so much that the family cannot move back in, until it has been shored up. Neighborhood boys break into it, and find that the interior is marvelously appointed, especially with its rich, dark wainscoting. Their egos thrill to the opportunity, and for several days they sneak in and complete the inner work of destruction.

“Deconstruction” is an esoteric term of contemporary, French (Dérida) literary criticism, that names a method whereby one places a text into rich intellectual context and looks for what it has left out. Holes (glaring examples in European and American lit often can be found in the portrayal of women or POC—or their complete omission) are actually handles for criticism of the artistic strength and cultural value of a work and its author. For instance, suppose a novel about the construction of the White House, or America, left out black laborers and their families.

Hair Trompf’s advisor, Steven Bannon, recently displayed the extraordinary breadth of his intellect (ah, you note that I’ve omitted “and depth” in this flash of nonfiction narrative) when he explained to the conservatives at CPAC that the Trompf “administration is in an unending battle for the ‘deconstruction of the administrative state’.” (WaPo article) (my bold). Might those combatants include cabinet members in brown shirts? For sure. Justices in black?

I’ve snarkled a bit there, but part of the problem with Bannon is that he confidently aspires to the role of major thinker. Maybe even mystic advisor (?). For instance, again the breadth of his cultural analysis in this (Skype) speech at the Vatican in 2014.

In our popular usage, “deconstruction” has become (at best) a sloppy word for saying that I’m going to take something apart and look at its pieces. For Bannon, it’s just a self-aggrandizing term for a raging (and boyish) ego’s fantasy of libertarian freedom to destroy until it has nothing left to do.

Then what will remain standing, that is worth living in? What is Bannon leaving out?

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